MC 1.1: IF CATS DISAPPEARED FROM THE WORLD/世界から猫が消えたな (nyaff15)

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“IF CATS DISAPPEARED FROM THE WORLD” © 2016 TOHO CO., LTD. / Hakuhodo DY Media Partners Inc. / Shogakukan Inc. / AMUSE INC. / CROSS COMPANY INC. / Magazine House Co., Ltd. / Lawson HMV Entertainment , Inc. / Sony Music Entertainment (Japan) Inc. / KDDI CORPORATION / GYAO Corporation / NIPPON SHUPPAN HANBAI INC.

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This elegantly heartrending movie gets right to the core of some of our modern existence’s cruelest contradictions: To experience love for people and things, we must also know the sensation of losing them. With the acquaintance of delightful new friends comes the inevitability of goodbyes. Is it a manner by which the universe maintains some semblance of balance? Or is it little more than life’s cruelest hoax? These are difficult questions for anyone to ponder, but especially the young souls at the center of this delicate narrative, found in their early 20s and 30s, a time when ids still cling to the idea of being the center of one’s particular universe, yet realization of being insignificant in the vast scheme of things begins to dawn. It is also a time when many experience their insecurities and self-concerns must share space with that of others, as the frailty, the mortality of other loved ones in their lives comes suddenly to the fore.

These are the emotional currents ridden by the main character as he experiences a cruel twist of fate that leaves the young man with only a few days to live. A deal with the devil, who takes on the character’s exact same form (is there a more loathsome or frightening opponent to consider than our own selves?), presents itself: grant this demon permission to take away something from the world in exchange for one more day to live. A deliberately paced taking stock of life and connecting with those who are most important in the daydreamer’s life ensues.

Akira Nagai, a director with a surprisingly scant filmography, perfectly captures the vibrant life forces through the couple played by Takeru Sato and Miyazaki Aoi. wistfulness, outrage, despair, and wonderment are communicated naturally through their dialogue and body language. As in many Japanese films, difficulties of communication is a prominent theme. As the inextricably entwined couple grasp at what lead to their drifting apart, or a father maintains an emotional distance from his ailing wife, it feels extremely familiar, relatable.

IF CATS DISAPPEARED… joins other contemporary films from Japan (see Daihachi Yoshida’s THE KIRISHIMA THING/桐島、部活やめるってよ) that share a love of films overtly, in the actions and conversations of characters. It is a love that becomes instantly infectious as characters meet and form disarmingly sincere connections over their passions. Interactions between the main character and his film connoisseur friend he mistakenly and repeatedly calls Tsutaya (the name of a popular chain of video stores) are quirky yet show people at their most fragile and compassionate states. They also create an urge to go out and acquaint or reacquaint oneself with classic works like Lang’s Metropolis or Wong Kar Wai’s Happy Together.

The parts of the story touched by magic realism are sparing yet rendered in eye-catching fashion, just enough to shake up the melancholy with a much welcome dose of wonderment. The music accompanying these scenes has an assured coolness about it to boot.

Boasting scenes of natural beauty, amidst the brilliance of waterfalls in Argentina or the sloping landscapes of Hokkaido, Japan, it is a film that effectively calls for us to marvel at life’s marvels, even in the face of the most wicked of curveballs thrown our way. Mr. Nagai, I eagerly await your next film.

IF CATS DISAPPEARED FROM THE WORLD received its North American premiere at this year’s New York Asian Film Festival June 24th, and will be shown again on Monday, June 25th, 9 PM at the Walter Reade Theater. Visit the Subway Cinema website for details and tickets.

MC 1: Japanese Perspectives @ NYAFF 2016

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The New York Asian Film Festival has long been offering a sliding door peek into distant cultures and landscapes by way of programming rare and adventurous films from distant shores. Perfect for New Yorkers to get a dose of exotica without leaving city limits, one can get a quick blast by way of a day at the movies or really immerse oneself in salient aspects of a country’s culture as well as trends in its film output with repeated trips to the festival’s home of Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater (June 22 – July 5) and new digs the SVA Theater (July 6 – July 9).

Gaining insight into Japanese culture is unavoidable after even a little time spent with its films, and this 15th anniversary edition of the NYAFF gives plenty of opportunity to do so. Below is a preview of some of the Japanese movies being shown along with some impressions. For a list of all of the movies as well as offerings from South Korea, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and South East Asia, visit the SUBWAY CINEMA website.

1.CREEPY

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CREEPY is a psychological thriller from Kiyoshi Kurosawa that has more than a little Hitchcockian flair for suspense. Its biggest reference point, though, is probably early Kiyoshi Kurosawa with the director going back to the kind of off kilter takes on seemingly familiar terror (CURE and KAIRO) head scratching affairs that made singular lasting impressions . This return to form is all the more riveting for casting popular actor Hidetoshi Nishijima as its brooding yet fiery lead and Teruyuki Kagawa, a reliable everyman of Japanese cinema who plays the far more fun villain with maniacal glee. The film’s score dances along a highwire, sending waves of tension down the viewers’ spines. All the while, an equally accomplished sound design makes for a thorough sense of dread and foreboding. The film has its fair share of awkwardness, it is Kiyoshi Kurosawa after all, so prolonged sequences of horrid acts may cause discomfort. It is as though the director is subjecting us to the same notion of being helplessly trapped by circumstances as its flailing protagonists. Like Kurosawa’s other thrillers, CREEPY brings out existential questions of free will and the entanglements of social structures, as well as more local issues of community and the notion of being a good neighbor.

 

2. WHAT A WONDERFUL FAMILY

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Don’t let the charming façade of WHAT A WONDERFUL FAMILY fool you into thinking it is entirely innocuous. The film similarly pokes and prods at traditionally accepted institutions of marriage and family life. The vehicle here is a light comedy focused around an increasingly rare three-generation household, whose eldest figures threaten divorce. While peppered throughout with a gentle zaniness that may seem antiquated, it slyly raises questions over values as family members’ true objections to the split are exposed. The main event is a protracted family meeting scene, which manages to be both no holds barred and civil. Everyone in the cast is on point but Hashizume Isao stands out as the family’s foible-filled patriarchal figure. He is delightfully incorrigible and a joy to watch throughout.

 

3. A BRIDE FOR RIP VAN WINKLE

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Rougher going is the nearly 3 hour BRIDE FOR RIP VAN WINKLE, the latest from iconoclastic director Shunji Iawai (who will be honored at the festival with a lifetime achievement award). It is an odyssey of sorts for its wide eyed protagonist, whose transformative journey, along with the help of a peculiar ‘fixer’ (played by Rising Star recipient Go Ayano) takes her from lonely soul in need of salvation to a savior figure. Far less subtle in its skewering of society, Iwai takes on everything from narrow minded parents to the wastefulness of a population that frowns on recycling old goods. Interesting for its strange straddling of the line between realism and storybook logic, as well as its steadfastly independent production, it can be a tough slog due to some overly long static scenes, in particular those between the main character and one played by COCCO, an actress and singer whose own real life nuances makes for compelling onscreen viewing.

4. KIYAMACHI DARUMA

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Faring less well is the more straightforward genre exercise KIYAMACHI DARUMA. Its title a reference to an ill-fated yakuza member’s limbless state, the mostly plodding narrative only occasionally engages viewers in his unthinkable plight. Although initially suggesting off color humor at the main character’s expense, the proceedings largely maintain 1 sustained note of gloom and denigration. It doesn’t help that the movie’s look is lacking in innovation, reminiscent of video nasties from the 90s (remember Guinea Pig anyone?) that lacked any substance beyond their shock factor. A few points for not pulling any punches, but this story of betrayal amidst a backdrop of criminal activity mostly shouted through by its assorted lowlife characters failed to stir much interest.

 

5. TETSUO: THE IRON MAN

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In honor of its 15th anniversary, the festival is screening a few favorites from the past, including an appropriately slotted 11 pm showing of TETSUO: THE IRON MAN. For those more interested in a visceral experience without the societal context, this was the world’s introduction to Tsukamoto Shinya’s wild imagination. It is a short blast of roughly hewn metallic imagery accompanied by a clanging and banging industrial soundtrack that tells the tale of individuals warped into industrial strength iron clad monstrosities drawn to destroying each other or the world, whichever comes first. With nods to the over the top transformation sequences in Akira, it has been recognized as a pillar of the body horror subgenre, but truly nothing has looked like this before or since. For those uninitiated, the opportunity to see the film that launched hundreds of thousands of passions for Japanese cinema, my own included should not be taken for granted.

For more information about the NEW YORK ASIAN FILM FESTIVAL, visit the SUBWAY CINEMA website.